Three Little Ladies Rabbitry, Jersey Wooly
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Tips for Building a Winning Rabbit Herd

More About Breeding Your Rabbit: Breeding Rabbits

Breeding rabbits that win at the show table is very exciting. Getting to that point is not easy, especially if you are trying to build a herd for the long term. So we have some tips that will help you along the journey.

1. Do everything for the long term. I remember one of our first ARBA rabbit shows. We saw Heather Washburn with this awesome Holland Lop. If there ever was a cover boy/girl for Hollands this was the one. I was talking with Larry and Nancy at the show about the rabbit. Larry mentioned how it had taken years to get a good herd, and a rabbit like that. He gave the advice to be in rabbits for the long term. We understood what he was saying, but I think weíve gained a greater appreciation for that as weíve continued to show rabbits.

This means with every purchase you make you must be thinking long term. Iíve heard the phrase instant gratification on many occasions. We get to McDonalds and we have our food in 60 seconds. Many people think of their rabbits in the same way. How will this rabbit help me on the show table at the next show? The question you need to ask is how will this rabbit help my herd in the long term. We are often asked of our sale rabbits, how many legs does it have. Although this ďmayĒ give some incite into that rabbit, Iím not convinced that it really matters. What matters is what that rabbit is going to do for your herd.

I will also see exhibitors interested in a rabbit and they take it from judge to judge to get multiple opinions. We also like to periodically ask about rabbits we may purchase. The reality is, if the judge is not familiar with your herd they may not be able to give you an entire answer. I think we all want rabbits that win on the table, but not all our rabbits do. In fact, some of the strangest show rabbits can make some of the best brood does.

2. Remember the three ďcĒs of showing rabbits. They are cull, cull, cull. I say that to emphasize the importance of culling and its effect on your overall herd. All of us have some sort of limitation in the number of rabbits we can keep in our barn. Whether that total is 5 or 500 culling still matters. Why hold on to a rabbit that is not helping your herd?

I want to clarify when I say cull, that everyoneís method of culling is different. We generally sell ours. Other breeders may give them away and some even euthanize. Regardless of the method the important thing is that you cull.

If youíre going to cull, cull hard. By that I mean, be very critical of your own herd. Most breeders that arenít good at culling have the fear that the rabbit in question may turn out to be their next grand champion. All of us have that fear, but some choose to cull anyway. Based on our history, we have kept around more rabbits that didnít help our herd, than rabbits that we culled and later wished we hadnít.

Here are a few of the things we consider when culling. Do we have better rabbits of the same sex and variety? If so, we cull. Is the rabbit producing other rabbits in our barn that are doing well at the show table? If not, we cull. Is the rabbit producing rabbits with genetic characteristics we do not like? If so, we cull. Just because a rabbit isnít working for our herd, doesnít mean it wonít work for someone elseís. Let someone else have a crack at that rabbit.

3. Keep your lines tight. For a new breeder this is very hard. You want to get the best rabbits possible, and sometimes you just canít keep the lines tight. If you donít keep tight genetics, the result is unpredictable litters. Ideally if you have a rabbit with a great shoulder and poor hindquarter, you would breed it to a rabbit with a good hindquarter. But if the genetics arenít tight you could end up with a whole set of new issues.

For a long time our girls did very well in holland lops. We were consistently producing winners at the show table. An open breeder came to us and said they were getting out of hollands and offered their herd to us. After some very careful consideration, we purchased the herd. That set us back about a year in hollands. We are just now getting back to some good quality rabbits in the breed. There were several issues resulting from that purchase. Although they came from solid lines, when mixed with our existing lines, the breedings did not produce the quality we wanted. Its always a good idea to ask what lines a rabbit comes from.

4. Breed. Ok I know that sounds too simplistic, but seriously, do a lot of breeding. Try different combinations. When you find one that works, repeat it. The girls have done some breedings that they werenít sure what would be produced. But many of them worked. Just to clarify they always consider color when breeding so we avoid nonshowable colors. We generally consider type, but will take some chances in color.

Donít be afraid to breed a father/daughter or mother/son. If both have great overall type, this will help keep your genetic lines tight. This will assist you as you try to establish youíre own lines.

There are a lot of new breeders that donít want to breed. They just want to win at the show table. If thatís you, be prepared to struggle at the show table. Most breeders arenít selling their best rabbits. They keep their best rabbits. Sometimes you can get an older rabbit, and once in a while a junior that develops into something strong at the table. To get consistent winners, you have to have a good breeding program.

5. Enjoy the hobby. This week we had exhibitors at the show with no rabbits. They came out to see friends, and they had an enjoyable afternoon. When we first started showing, our youngest daughter wasnít really in to showing rabbits. Often she didnít go to the shows. I would stay home with her. Now she wouldnít miss a show. We werenít going to force her into showing rabbits.

Whether youíre a youth exhibitor or an open exhibitor, if you donít enjoy it, why do it? One thing I do to pass the time between breeds is write for various breeds. Its fun to see different exhibitors, and the time can go by much faster. We are dedicating this blog to Brianna Brown. Brianna is working hard to improve her rabbit herd. I think weíll be seeing some very good rabbits from her in the future. Keep up the good work!

Rob Usakowski
Three Little Ladies Rabbitry